LOS ANGELES -- Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s U.S. sales edged up 1 percent in March, to 205,342 units. That lagged the industry's 3 percent gain, but was enough to make March the automaker's best month in terms of sales volume since the federal cash-for-clunkers program in August 2009.
Toyota brand sales were flat, while Lexus sales rose 15 percent and Scion sales fell 4 percent.
A sharp decline in Toyota Camry sales led to the Nissan Altima besting it as the top-selling car in America for March.
Perhaps responding to the falling Camry numbers, Toyota is continuing its March sales incentives into April.
"We have zero percent financing on various terms, a little longer on the final '12 models and shorter terms for '13s, and we have great leases," said Bob Carter, Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations.
The combined Toyota, Lexus and Scion sales were fueled by increased consumer confidence and access to cheap credit, Carter said.
Although other automakers showed larger year-over-year increases, Toyota maintained its position as the No. 1 retail automaker, and Toyota Division was the No. 1 retail brand, the automaker said.
Toyota Motor Sales' fleet sales were 12 percent of total, although Carter said that number will drop below 10 percent as the year plays out.
Camry sales slid 12 percent from last year, dropping it behind the Nissan Altima by 100 units. Toyota couldn't blame last year's fleet-sales bonanza for the decline: Camry's fleet sales were up slightly, to 21 percent of all Camry sales in March from 20 percent last year.
Camry 'right on plan'
"The market is very competitive," Carter said. "We have Camry right on plan. We feel really good about our position following a late build-out of the '12 model. We are absolutely confident we will be the No. 1 vehicle in the market in 2013 for the 13th consecutive year."
The aging Corolla, meanwhile, had an 11 percent gain, with a "real tight ground stock," Carter said. Sales of the Avalon, which was recently redesigned, more than doubled. The Tacoma and Tundra pickups continued their strong 2013 gains.
Those gains countered sharply lower sales for the Prius family and weak sales of Scion-badged vehicles.
"Our marketing resources are in other models. We're still launching RAV4 and Avalon ... and last year was the launch for the entire Prius family," Carter said of Prius' 23 percent decline. He added that declining gasoline prices also crimped demand for hybrids.
RAV4 demand up, sales down
Sales of the redesigned RAV4 dropped 5 percent -- mostly because the vehicle's early build rate is struggling to keep pace with consumer demand. The RAV4 is Toyota's fastest-turning vehicle, with fewer than 20 days of supply on hand, Carter said.
On the Lexus side, sales of the ES sedan more than doubled, while the flagship LS had a 71 percent increase. But the rest of the Lexus car lineup declined.
Last summer's changes to the RX crossover continued to fuel strong sales, up 29 percent.
Toyota recently raised its industry sales forecast to 15.3 million units for the year, up from its previous forecast of 14.7 million. Toyota predicts it will finish the year above 2.2 million units, which would give it a market share of 14.4 percent.
Said Carter: "We expect the industry will continue to grow at around a 5 percent rate, which exceeds the general economy," growing at "about a 2 percent rate."